Monday, May 16, 2011

Quick Southeast Asian Grilled Chicken Salad

I recently received a coupon to try Tyson's Grilled and Ready chicken from the Foodbuzz Tastemaker's program. I had seen these pre-cooked chicken products before in the store and had been curious about trying them, and here was my opportunity. As a busy grad student, I can see the benefits of having pre-cooked chicken strips in my freezer. I often cook sheet trays of chicken breast to have on hand, but even that can be time-consuming on a busy week. With these, I can pull out as much as I need and defrost it overnight to be used in meals the next day.

I had in mind that these pre-grilled pieces of chicken might be too salty because they are pre-packaged and/or they would taste like rubbery fast-food grilled chicken, but neither of these scenarios were the case. Though they did not completely have the texture of a freshly cooked chicken breast that I'd sliced myself, the flavor was just as good as a homemade grilled chicken breast that was simply seasoned with salt and pepper. I like how the grill marks were visible too. Would I buy this product again? Based on convenience and taste, definitely yes.

To go with the theme of the need for a quick protein, I used these chicken pieces to make a fast salad. This salad comes together quickly thanks to other convenience items such as bagged lettuce and pre-shredded cabbage and carrots (though you don't have to use those to make this recipe work, of course). I actually used lettuce given to me from an experimental lettuce plot at the location where I work (when science and food mesh, it's a beautiful thing at times). I did use pre-shredded carrots and I often have pre-shredded cabbage to add bulk and color to salads, but this time I shredded the cabbage on my own (easy work). I did not opt for a bottled dressing because I had in mind a particular recipe I wanted to throw together. It's a semi-resurrection from my Hot Ginger-Lime Beef Salad, which I love (and NEED to make again soon). I know a homemade dressing is the opposite of convenience but I can't help but feel it might be a little bit healthier and you can control the quality of ingredients yourself. What I love about this recipe is that, even on a crazy busy night, you can put together a mostly homemade meal that looks so attractive. This is a perfect recipe to keep in mind as we head into the summer months and the idea of heating up the stove to cook chicken seems more than you can stand.

Quick Southeast Asian Grilled Chicken Salad
Printable Recipe

For the salad:
4 cups mixed greens
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup grated purple cabbage
1/4 of a large red bell pepper, julienned
1/4 of a large yellow bell pepper, julienned
1/2 cup julienned cucumber
8 oz cold cooked boneless, skinless chicken breast strips, such as those from Tyson Grilled and Ready
2 tbsp chopped dry-roasted peanuts

For the dressing:
2 tbsp natural crunchy peanut butter
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce
2 tsp brown sugar

1. Arrange all the salad ingredients attractively on a plate, using the peanuts as the last addition to decorate.
2. Add the peanut butter to a small bowl, blend in the garlic, then gradually blend in each liquid until the peanut butter becomes softened and more liquid. Stir in the sugar until it dissolves.
3. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and serve.

  • Servings per recipe: 2
  • Per serving:
  • Calories:399.9
  • Fat: 16.9 g
  • Saturated fat: 2.7 g
  • Cholesterol: 65.7 mg
  • Sodium: 609.4 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 28.3 g
  • Fiber: 6.3 g
  • Sugars: 14.1 g
  • Protein: 37 g

Friday, May 13, 2011

Chicken with Creamy Roasted Eggplant

The semester has finally ended and I'm just waiting on my grades. I've already jumped into working on field work, and I'm so excited about where my new project is going. I'm also excited because I finally have time to really focus on some cooking. During my stressful times of the semester, my inspiration waned as I focused on other tasks, but now I am ready to spend some serious time in the kitchen. As such, I went to the library and perused the cookbook section and found myself in the Asian cuisine section. I had almost bought some curry mix at World Market earlier in the afternoon, but now that I have time to cook, why not experiment and enjoy myself? I picked up several cookbooks with the express purpose of preparing some beautiful eggplant I had gotten a few days ago on sale at my favorite health food store in town, Sun Harvest. I picked up three books based on their table of contents. Oddly enough, one of them ended up being a Turkish cuisine cookbook, which had found itself in the Indian section. So, for dinner tonight I combined two concepts; one from the Indian cookbook and the other from the Turkish cookbook. I made a light chicken and vegetable curry/stew (hard to tell what it is since it's Turkish-Indian fusion!) with a base of smoky roasted eggplant. I chose the east Indian-style eggplant over the Turkish one simply because it was much simpler to do. The Turkish recipe just had the eggplant as a side dish with some stewed chicken, but I mixed the shredded roasted eggplant into the chicken stew and allowed them to simmer together. The eggplant became silky and broke down into strands that wrapped around the chicken and other vegetables. I spiced the stew with cumin and coriander instead of dill and kept the parsley in order to bring home the Indian flavor in a subtle way but keep the look of the Turkish stew. This was not as heavy as a winter-style stew, so it was perfect for a springtime meal. The meal came together with the addition of brown rice.

Here is the information for the two books I loosely based this recipe on:

Smoky Aubergine Puree from India Food & Cooking by Pat Chapman
Begendili Tavuk from The Sultan's Kitchen by Ozcan Ozan

Chicken with Creamy Roasted Eggplant
Printable Recipe

1 approximately 1 lb eggplant
1 tsp olive oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-2" pieces
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lg red bell pepper, chopped roughly
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup canned fire-roasted tomatoes 
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
pinch ground red pepper or red pepper flakes
pinch of sugar, or to taste
1/2 tbsp minced parsley
juice of 1 small or half a large lemon
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Poke the eggplant with a fork and place on a baking tray lined with foil for easy clean-up. Roast for 30 minutes, then turn on the broiler to allow the skin to char slightly, rotating the eggplant to make sure it chars evenly. Remove from oven to cool slightly so it can be handled.
2. In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the hot saucepan. Cook the chicken until it is opaque.
3. Add the garlic, bell pepper, and onion to the chicken and cook until they are tender and the onions are translucent.
5. Meanwhile, remove the eggplant from the pan to a bowl and peel off the skin and cut off the top. With a fork, mash and shred the eggplant.
4. Add the eggplant, tomatoes, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, and sugar to the chicken mixture. Reduce the heat to medium and partially cover the saucepan with a lid. Simmer at least 15 minutes.
5. Taste the stew and re-season with salt, pepper, and sugar. Fold in the parsley and lemon juice. Serve immediately with rice or bread.

  • Servings per recipe: 4
  • Per serving:
  • Calories: 198
  • Fat: 3.1 g
  • Saturated fat: 0.7 g
  • Cholesterol: 66.4 mg
  • Sodium: 311.7 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 14.9 g
  • Fiber: 4.7 g
  • Sugars: 2.7 g
  • Protein: 28.6 g

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Piccole Torta Pasqualina con Morels (Mini Easter Pies with Morels)

I recently received an email from the folks at Marx Foods to contribute to their Morel Recipe Challenge. I was happy to participate, especially since morels are nearly impossible to come by now that I live in Texas. Back home in Indiana, thanks, to the springtime rains, several types of wild mushooms spring up so mushroom hunting time. However, here in arid west Texas I have zero chance of finding any of the mushrooms I'd find in Indiana. When I lived in Indiana, my favorite mushrooms to find were morels, and we'd prepare them by lightly dusting them with flour, salt, and pepper and fry them up and dip them in ketchup (not health food, but you only get a couple of weeks out of the year to have this delicacy!). I miss having these rich-tasting mushrooms, so I was more than happy to contribute to this contest.

I was impressed by the product I received because as you can tell by the pictures, these were full-sized mushrooms, not little mushroom chips as you sometimes get with other types of dried mushrooms. 

  For the contest we were required to prepare an hors d’oeuvres using a package of dried morels sent from Marx Foods. Because it was around Easter time and it's now spring, I wanted to do something light. Nothing is lighter than phyllo pastry, so I settled on some sort of little tarts.The mushrooms were the inspiring ingredient. I had come across an onion pie (torta di cipolle) recipe that had dried porcini mushrooms in it, and a light bulb went off in my head...pie was the perfect use for these guys. Because I am proud of my Italian heritage, I chose to do a twist on the classic Italian Easter pie, torta pasqualina (sometimes called pizza rustica in other parts of Italy). When this pie was invented hundreds of years ago, eggs were a seasonal food as chickens at that time laid less than half the eggs conventional chickens do now, and mainly at springtime. Because of that, Easter pie was a riccota custard pie studded with hard-boiled eggs. Obviously, I couldn't put a whole hard-boiled egg into those little pie shells, so I subbed in toasted pine nuts, which have an egg shape and would help maintain the richness that egg yolk would yield. Also instead of using chard or beet greens to add a springtime green color, I used frozen spinach. I only needed a little bit of green vegetable, and frozen spinach is so convenient. It's perfect for when you are throwing a party; because of the convenience of phyllo shells and frozen spinach, it takes a little stress off the host/hostess without sacrificing anything. These are a great little 1-to-2-bite hors d’oeuvres. Using dried, reconstituted mushrooms was key in this recipe because overall they did not have a lot of moisture despite their reconstitution. These tarts would have been soggy had I used regular button or cremini mushrooms.

I love the contrast between the crackle of the phyllo, the crunch and sweetness of the pine nuts, the creamy filling, and the chewy, earthiness of the mushrooms. Each tart looks so spring-appropriate with the bright green color and the bits of morel stud the top of each tart with their lacy texture.

Also, by no means do you have to make these just for Easter or springtime, thanks to the use of dried mushrooms, which can be found year-round. These would be great for any party where you need a fast, yet elegant starter.

Thanks Marx Foods for this delicious opportunity!

 Piccole Torta Pasqualina con Morels (Mini Easter Pies with Morels)
Printable Recipe

4 large dried morel mushrooms
hot water
2 tsp unsalted butter
1 small shallot, minced
5 oz frozen, thawed spinach, squeezed of all residual moisture and then chopped
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 1.9-oz boxes frozen phyllo shells (30 shells total)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Pour enough hot water of the mushrooms to cover them completely. Allow them to sit until they are softened, about 20 min. Remove the mushrooms from the liquid; the liquid can be saved for stock or discarded. Pat the mushrooms on a clean cloth to remove all excess moisture. Coarsely chop the mushrooms and set aside. (Please note I soaked more than 4 mushrooms because the sample was large enough that I have other plans for those to come)

3. Heat butter in a medium skillet over medium heat until melted, then add the shallot and cook until transparent. Add the mushroom, saute about 2 min, then add the chopped spinach and blend all the ingredients together. Remove from the skillet and set aside to cool slightly.

4. While the mushroom mixture cools, add the ricotta to a medium bowl and fold the Parmesan, marjoram, pine nuts, nutmeg, and cooled mushroom mixture. Season well with salt and pepper. You can taste the mixture at this point to see if it is adequately seasoned, then fold in the egg.

5. Place the filling in a pastry bag or plastic bag with the corner cut off.

6. Lay all the shells out on a baking tray lined with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. Pipe the filling among the phyllo shells, smoothing the tops off with the back of a spoon if necessary. Bake the mini pies for 10-15 more minutes rotating the tray once for even baking. The tarts are finished when the filling becomes solid.

  • Servings per recipe: 30
  • Serving size: 1 hors d’oeuvre per serving
  • Per serving:
  • Calories: 35.1
  • Fat: 2.2 g
  • Saturated fat: 0.9 g
  • Cholesterol: 4.5 mg
  • Sodium:35.9 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 2.6 g
  • Fiber: 0.1 g
  • Sugar: 0 g
  • Protein: 1.7 g
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